For years now, health experts have been raising the alarm: sleep apnea is on the rise, and it is threatening public health. Those cautions bear out in the data: an estimated 22 to 29 million Americans—about 12 percent of the adult population—suffer from sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That’s up from estimations of three to seven percent as recently as 2008. One research from nonprofit organization Fair Health showed an 850 percent increase in sleep-apnea healthcare claims across the United States from 2014 to 2017. Worse, millions of sleep apnea patients don’t even know that they’re suffering from the condition. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 80 percent of individuals with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea remain undiagnosed across the United States. The problem is particularly rampant among minorities. Almost one in four African-Americans may suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea, Reuters reported, but in recent research, almost 95 percent of African-American apnea sufferers were undiagnosed and untreated.
Much-Required Attention Boost for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
The sharp rise in sleep apnea sufferers—and correspondingly lax levels of diagnosis and treatment—traces back decades, but the issue has been getting a much-required attention boost more recently, as high-profile athletes have shared their personal struggles with the disorder. Houston Astros pitcher Josh James openly shared his sleep apnea diagnosis, the health struggles that contributed to it, and the CPAP treatment plan that followed. Mets first baseman Dominic Smith did the same, informing The New York Times in early 2019, “I swear I was just suffocating.” Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen has been vocal about his apnea, too, and how significant his diagnosis was. “It’s a big deal,” he told Buccanneers.com in 2018. “If I wouldn’t have gotten diagnosed, there is no chance I’d be sitting here … the highest-paid center. I wouldn’t even be in the league anymore. I would have fizzled out after probably my third year. It saved my career.”
Sleep Apnea Causes Differ Among Patients
Although researches have shown several demographic trends in sleep apnea sufferers—as well as higher prevalence with African-Americans, and with men—it can impact anybody and is tied to many causes. Like many of the around 90 distinct sleep disorders, sleep apnea causes range from things we can control—such as alcohol use, smoking and excess weight—to ones we can’t, like genetic predisposition and the general muscle atrophy (including throat muscles) that can come with advancing age. For some, solving sleep problems can be as easy as changing habits. For other people, sleep disorder diagnosis and intervention are the best way forward.
Don’t Be Among Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea Sufferers
A message that vocal sleep apnea sufferers such as James, Smith, and Jensen are helping to get across: If you’re struggling with sleep, seeking medical assistance can be the first step toward finding the right treatment, restful sleep, and better health. “Your doctor can do a sleep study, checking your breathing while you sleep in a laboratory or attached to a monitoring device at home,” said Stephanie Watson, executive editor at Harvard Women’s Health Watch. “It’s important to get an objective measure like a sleep study because the treatment you select will depend on how severe the sleep apnea is.” During a sleep study, experts document how your body behaves when you’re sleeping, with anything from an electroencephalogram that measures brain waves to an electrocardiogram that measures your heart rate. The data they collect will feed into enabling them to understand whether a sleep disorder diagnosis is warranted, but the crucial piece of information they’re looking for, in relation to sleep apnea: an AHI, or apnea-hypopnea index, measuring the average number of apnea experiences—a complete breathing halt for 10 seconds or longer—that occur inside an hour. An AHI above five will typically result in a mild sleep apnea diagnosis; above 15 would be moderate; above 30 is considered more severe. With knowledge of the sleep disorder you’re dealing with—and, if applicable, a sleep apnea diagnosis that leads you toward the correct treatment—you and your physician can address the next steps toward healthy, healing rest. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed CPAP therapy, a SoClean Automated PAP Cleaner & Sanitizer Device might be a welcome way to make your daily routine easier.